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hello RNIB supporting blind and partially sighted people Factsheet DDA Factsheet 6: “Reasonable adjustments” in accessing goods, facilities and

RNIB supporting blind and partially sighted people


DDA Factsheet 6: “Reasonable adjustments” in accessing goods, facilities and services, public authorities and private clubs

This factsheet forms part of a set of RNIB DDA factsheets, all of which are available in alternative formats.

This factsheet looks specifically at the obligations in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) relating to "reasonable adjustments" in the provision of goods, facilities and services (although it does not cover the very specific provisions relating to employment services), public authority functions and private clubs. Please see Factsheet 5: DDA and access to goods, facilities and services, public authority functions and factsheet 7 on private clubs for a more general look at this section of the Act.

Please note that this factsheet does not cover the provision or use of transport vehicles. These are dealt with in factsheet 8 - Transport.


The duty to make adjustments has been introduced in stages: in October 1999, the first phase in relation to goods, facilities and services came into force covering policies, practices and procedures (eg no dogs policies); auxiliary aids and services (eg information in large print, or Braille), and the provision of an alternative means of service where a physical barrier prevented use of the service (eg bringing goods to the door of an inaccessible shop).

In October 2004, the remaining duties relating to goods, facilities and services came into force - removing, altering or providing a reasonable means of avoiding a physical barrier.

In December 2006, the provisions relating to reasonable adjustments for public authorities carrying out functions, and in relation to private clubs, came into force.

This factsheet outlines the duties in more detail, and gives examples of how the duties work. Ultimately, it will be for a court to decide what is or what is not a "reasonable adjustment" in particular circumstances, but this factsheet gives some guidance on this issue.

The duty to make adjustments has been described as the cornerstone of the Act – it requires those covered by the provisions to take positive action to ensure that blind and partially sighted people can enjoy services in the same way as others. The Court of Appeal, in the case of Roads and Central Trains, said in considering the duty to make adjustments the policy of the Act was to ensure that disabled people could have access to services in as close a way as possible to that enjoyed by non disabled people.

The Code of Practice

A Code of Practice Rights of Access: Services to the public, public authority functions, private clubs and premises, was issued by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (formerly Disability Rights Commission) and came into force in December 2006. This gives detailed guidance on how the DDA should be applied and should be taken into account by the courts where relevant when deciding any cases brought under the Act. It is an extremely useful guide to the Act, and is available to purchase from the Stationery Office. It can be downloaded free of charge from the Disability Rights Commission website - www.drc-gb.org

Who has rights under the Act?

The Act gives rights to disabled people - those with a "physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day to day activities". From 14 April 2003, if you have been certified as blind or partially sighted by a consultant ophthalmologist, or if you are registered as blind or partially sighted with a local authority, you will automatically be regarded as disabled for the purposes of the act [although this does not apply to Northern Ireland].

Most blind and partially sighted people are likely to be "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.

Please see Factsheet 3 on definition of disability for more details.

Who has these duties under the Act?

The duty to make reasonable adjustments applies to anyone providing goods, facilities or services to the public, whether for a fee or not. This includes banks, GPs, places of worship, local authority departments such as social services and environmental health when carrying out services, leisure centres, hotels and restaurants.

It also applies to public authorities when carrying out a public authority function – such as making benefit determinations; subjecting people to immigration control, or arresting someone – and to private clubs.

Changes that service providers, public authorities carrying out functions and private clubs have to make to meet the duty of reasonable adjustments.

NB. Please see Factsheet 5: Access to goods, facilities and services and public authority functions, and factsheet 7 on private clubs for details of service providers’ public authorities’ and private clubs’ other duties.

  1. Practices, policies and procedures

Where a service provider has a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for you to use their service, they will have to take reasonable steps to change that practice, policy or procedure so that you can use the service. Broadly similar provisions, with slightly different wording to reflect the different nature of what they do, applies to public authorities carrying out functions and to private clubs.

(i)������������� What are "practices, policies and procedures"?

  • A practice will be what a service provider/public authority/private club actually does (referred to collectively as “service providers”).
  • A policy will be what a service provider intends to do.
  • A procedure will be how a service provider plans to go about doing it.

Examples of policies that may need to be changed include:

  • Policy of admitting no dogs.
  • Health and safety policy banning blind people from entering a nightclub.
  • Policy of charging for wheelchair assistance at an airport.

(ii)������������� Will it mean an end to guide/assistance dog bans?

The provisions should end some of the common forms of discrimination faced by guide/assistance dog users in that shops, restaurants or public places of entertainment which have a '‘no dogs' ’policy, will need to revise their policies to allow for the admittance of guide/assistance dogs. In fact, most of the cases which have been brought before the county court on this part of the Act have been people being refused entry to places because of their guide/assistance dogs.

For example;

A DIY superstore has a policy of not allowing dogs onto its premises. Members of staff are instructed to prevent anyone with a dog from entering the superstore. The ‘no dogs’ policy is enforced in practice by this procedure. The policy makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people accompanied by a guide/assistance dog to use the DIY superstore. The superstore has a duty to take such steps as are reasonable for it to have to take to avoid that effect and to make its services accessible to disabled people. It decides to amend its ‘no dogs’ policy by allowing an exception for disabled people accompanied by a guide/assistance dog. This is likely to be a reasonable step for the superstore to have to take.

Mr. H’s local restaurant was taken over by a new owner, who would not allow Mr. H to use the restaurant with his guide dog. Mr H approached RNIB who took on his case. Following a County Court hearing, Mr. H was awarded �1,000 in compensation and a court injunction to require the restaurant owner to admit him with his guide dog.

  1. Auxiliary aids or services

Where an auxiliary aid or service (such as information in alternative formats) would enable or make it easier for disabled people to use a service/public authority/private club, service providers should take reasonable steps to supply such aids or services.

(i)������������� What is an auxiliary aid or service?

The Act itself gives two examples of these: the provision of information on audiotape and the provision of a sign language interpreter. The Code of Practice adds the following examples:

  • Readers
  • Information on computer disk
  • Information on audio tape
  • Telephone service to supplement other information
  • Spoken announcements or verbal communication
  • Accessible websites
  • Assistance with guiding
  • Audio description services
  • Large print or tactile maps/plans and three dimensional models
  • Touch facilities

Signage would also amount to an auxiliary aid or service, as could markings on the stairs to ensure that the edge is visible.

For example:

A supermarket instructs one of its employees to find items required by a visually impaired person for them. This is an example of an auxiliary service. RNIB has had a number of cases involving the provision of assistance from supermarkets.

A private club holds a talk by a guest speaker. It provides copies of the PowerPoint presentation that will be used by the speaker to a visually impaired member on disc, prior to the presentation

A benefits office provides information about a visually impaired person’s benefit entitlement in an accessible format

  1. Physical features

Where a physical feature, for example, something to do with the design of or access to buildings, or even the scope of a building, makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the service, the service provider has to take reasonable steps to:

  • Remove the feature
  • Alter it so that it no longer has that effect
  • Provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature
  • Provide a reasonable method of making the service in question available to disabled people.

(i)������������� What is a physical feature?

The Government has defined physical features in regulations; generally they are things such as steps, furniture, signs attached to the wall etc. In the case of Ross v Ryanair, the sheer size/scope of the airport was a "physical feature", and so there was an obligation to find a means of avoiding it (the use of a wheelchair).

For example: An inquiry point is located on the third floor of a Government office building and is accessed by a flight of stairs. This makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for some disabled people to get to it. If it is not practicable to remove or alter the feature, a means of avoiding the feature might be the installation of a lift. Alternatively, the Government department should consider finding another way of providing the service, such as having someone on the ground floor to answer enquiries.

Where a physical feature meets the provisions of Approved Document M (a detailed guide to accessibility of certain features) then the service provider will not have to alter or remove it for 10 years. They may be other adjustments that could be made in these circumstances though – such as providing a service by a reasonable alternative method.

In addition, a private club does not have to make changes to physical features where it meets in the house of a member or associate, although it will need to think about other adjustments (for example, meeting in another, accessible, place).

What does ’impossible or unreasonably difficult‘ mean under the Act?

The phrase “impossible or unreasonably difficult” is used both as a “trigger” for determining when adjustments relating to practices policies and procedures have to be made, and also to determine whether or not a failure to make adjustments is unlawful.

A failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to providers of services to the public and private clubs will only amount to unlawful discrimination in specified circumstances. These circumstances are that the effect of the failure is to make it impossible or ‘unreasonably difficult’ for the disabled person to make use of services or of clubs and that the failure is not justified.

In the case of public authorities carrying out functions, there are two types of functions: those which are like services, conferring a benefit; and those which are ‘negative’ in impact regardless of who is subjected to them (for example, the police arresting someone).

In the case of a benefit, a failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments will amount to discrimination where a particular barrier makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to receive the benefit. In the case of a ‘negative’ function, a failure will amount to discrimination where a particular barrier makes the impact of the function more severe than for non-disabled people (described in the Act as ‘unreasonably adverse’).

The Act does not define what is meant by ‘unreasonably difficult’, or ‘unreasonably adverse’. However, the two phrases are intended to represent the same level of difficulty in accessing services or functions that disabled people may face. However, when considering whether services are unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use, or whether disabled people’s experiences are unreasonably adverse, service providers should take account of whether the time, inconvenience, effort, discomfort, anxiety or loss of dignity entailed in using the service would be considered unreasonable by other people if they had to endure similar difficulties.

For example: If you have a bank account, and your statements are sent to you in standard print when you cannot read it, this would make it impossible or at the very least unreasonably difficult for you to access that service and the bank should provide your statements in a format that you can access, which might be large print or braille depending upon individual need.

What is meant by having to take ’reasonable‘ steps?

The Act doesn’t specify what factors should be taken into account when considering whether or not a step is a "reasonable" one to take. The Code of Practice states that what is reasonable will vary according to:

  • The type of service being provided.
  • The nature of the service provider and its size and resources.
  • How the person’s disability affects them in that context.

It also says that some of the following factors might be taken into account when considering what is reasonable:

  • How effective any steps would be in overcoming the difficulty that disabled people face in accessing the services.
  • How practicable it would be for the service provider to take these steps.
  • How disruptive taking the steps would be.
  • The financial and other costs of making the adjustment.
  • The extent of the service provider’s financial and other resources.
  • The amount of any resources already spent on making adjustments.
  • The availability of financial or other assistance.

For example:

  • A restaurant changes its menus daily. For that reason, it considers it not practicable to provide menus in alternative formats, such as braille. However, staff spend a little time reading out the menu for blind customers and the restaurant ensures that there is a large print copy available. These are likely to be reasonable steps for the restaurant to have to take.
  • A utility company supplying gas and electricity to domestic customers sends out quarterly bills. On request, the company is willing to provide the bills in alternative formats such as braille or large print for customers with visual impairments. This is likely to be a reasonable step for the utility company to have to take.

Do I have to be provided with information in my preferred format?

Service providers, public authorities and private clubs have to make sure that the service is accessible to you without unreasonable difficulty. This may mean providing information in your preferred format but it will depend on the circumstances. For example, in the restaurant example above, it is unlikely to be held to be reasonable for the restaurant to have to provide menus in people’s preferred format.

Will these adjustments cost me more?

Disabled people cannot be charged more than others who are not disabled or who have a different disability to cover the cost of meeting their DDA obligations.

Can service providers wait until I approach them about their duties or do they have to do anything in advance?

The duties owed under this section of the DDA are owed to disabled people as a whole, and service providers should have already reviewed their practices etc. to make sure that they can comply with the Act. In certain circumstances, though, such as in the example of the utility company above, it may be reasonable for them to provide adjustments once you have requested them and not in advance.

If service providers don’t make reasonable adjustments, are they automatically acting illegally?

If you say that you have been discriminated against because a service provider has failed to make reasonable adjustments, service providers can defend such a claim if their reasons fall within the following grounds of justifications under the DDA applied. These grounds are:

(i) ������������� Health and safety: there is a reasonably held belief that the failure is necessary in order not to endanger the health and safety of any person.

(ii) ������������� There is a reasonably held belief that an inability to give informed consent or entering into an enforceable contract. This applies where a disabled person is clearly unable to understand a complicated transaction.

(iii) ������������� In the case of a service provider only, making an adjustment would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, trade, profession or business.

(iv)������������� In the case of a public authority only, there is a reasonably held belief that not complying with the duty to make reasonable adjustments is necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of other people.

(v)������������� In the case of a public authority only, the failure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

(vi) ������������� In the case of a public authority only, where the authority has no power to take the steps which need to be taken.

Is there anything that I should do?

Although service providers have obligations to think ahead about what disabled people may need to enable them to use their service, it is a good idea for you to let them know if you have any particular needs. If you need your bank statements in braille, or you need assistance in a supermarket, correspondence from the tax office in large print, or assistance to familiarise yourself with the premises of your private club, then let the service provider know of your needs to make sure that they are fully aware of what you require.

What can I do if I think a service provider hasn’t complied with the Act?

If a service provider hasn’t made any reasonable adjustments, and as a result of this it is impossible or unreasonably difficult for you to access the service, (or unreasonably adverse in the case of a “negative” public authority function) then you can take the matter further. In the first instance, you should write to the service provider detailing your complaint, and in particular why their failure to make adjustments makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for you to use their service. You can use the RNIB advocacy letter to accompany this. You can also issue them with the questions procedure, to find out more about their reasons for not making the adjustments.

If your complaint is not satisfied, you can take your case to the County Court. You must do this within six months of the discrimination taking place.

It is advisable to get further advice before taking your case up – contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Centre, or RNIB. You can also call the Equality & Human Rights Commission (formerly Disability Rights Commission) Helpline on 0845 7 622 633.

Please note that on 28 September 2007 the Disability Rights Commission closed. However, their website is still available but will be no longer updated.

On 1 October 2007 The Equality and Human Rights Commission [EHRC] replaced the three former equality commissions: the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) established under the Equality Act 2006 – accountable for its public funds, but independent of government. The new commission is working to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and to build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.

The EHRC has taken over the function of the former DRC. The EHRC commission deals with disability discrimination as well as discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation, as well as providing advice and information on the Human Rights Act. Any references to the DRC should also be read as references to the EHRC after October 2007.

RNIB is committed to achieving comprehensive civil rights for all disabled people. The Disability Discrimination Act, although much improved, does not deliver all these rights. We will continue to campaign for additional legislation, such as a Single Equality Act, and attitudinal change within society to deliver this goal, as well as for the delivery of high quality services for all blind and partially sighted people."

RNIB Helpline 0303 123 9999

Information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem.

This factsheet is not an authoritative statement of the law. Whilst we have made every effort to ensure that the information we have provided is correct, we cannot accept any responsibility or liability.

Registered charity number 226227������������� ������������� ������������� RNIB, July 2007

Registered charity number 226227

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